Late last year, I was asked to speak to a class of 9 and 10 year olds about being a writer. Their class was running a programme in which they thought about what job they wanted in the future, and the school found someone with that occupation to go and speak to them for an hour. I thought the programme itself was a great idea, as it got the children thinking about their futures. During the years I spent teaching here in Japan, I often asked students what they wanted to do in the future. The overwhelming response, even from university students, was “I don’t know”. So I was impressed with this programme which got the students thinking about their futures from an early age.
The most popular job among the children was “writer”. I had just been featured in the local newspapers for winning the Language Learner Literature Award, and the school got in touch. I live in a rural area, and the school was way out of town, surrounded by rice fields. The children are growing up in farming and fishing communities. I thought that a job in those fields would be the most popular, but no. Over half the children wanted to be writers.
Writing is one of those occupations which is romanticized. I meet so many people who say they want to be a writer, until they actually sit down and try it. It’s tough. I think people are more in love with the idea of being a writer, rather than actually being one. I didn’t want to put the children off, but I didn’t want to give them the wrong impression. I decided to focus on the positives of being a writer, but also point out that it requires a lot of hard work.
The talk, including Q&A, was an hour. I planned to talk for around 25 minutes, show them some of my books, and then answer questions. To be honest, I thought I would have time left over. I was wrong. The sheer number of questions, many often coming from the same children, was overwhelming. There were still around ten children with their hands up to ask a question when class was over.
The questions were insightful and well thought out. One child asked what he could do, as a primary school student, to prepare himself to become a writer. I told him to read, read and then read some more. When I was their age, I was reading three books a week. I practically lived in the library. I also encouraged them to start writing. It’s never too early. I have a ten-year-old niece who is in the middle of writing a novel, and it’s great to see such creativity and discipline at such a young age. I also told them to develop their imaginations. Be creative. Make things. Experience as much as possible. They wrote all this down diligently.
A few weeks later, I received a package from the school. It was full of the children’s thoughts on my talk. Many children said they had started to read more. Others said they had started writing. It had been a long time since I was in a classroom with young children. I found their enthusiasm and interest invigorating. Actually, I was probably just as inspired as them!